The government of war-ravaged Ukraine is due to outline for the first time its priorities for the country’s reconstruction following Russia’s invasion, during a conference in Switzerland.
The two-day event in the southern city of Lugano begins on Monday and will be attended by representatives of dozens of countries, as well as several international organisations and financial institutions. It will include hashing out a plan to rebuild Ukraine and distributing tasks among delegates.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who will take part virtually, said on Sunday the work needed ahead in the areas that have been liberated by Russian forces alone was “really colossal”.
“And we will have to free over 2,000 villages and towns in the east and south of Ukraine,” added Zelenskyy, who is expected to present a formal draft of Ukraine’s recovery plan.
Rebuilding Ukraine, which more than four months into the war has already seen devastating destruction, is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
The event in Lugano is not a pledging conference, but will instead attempt to lay out the principles and priorities for a rebuilding process aimed to begin even as the war rages.
It is estimated that at least 45 million square metres of housing, 256 enterprises, 656 medical institutions, and 1,177 educational institutions had been damaged, destroyed or seized.
The conference had been planned well before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, originally slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland Artem Rybchenko said before the meeting that it would help create “the road map” to his country’s recovery.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal made a rare trip out of Ukraine since the war began to attend, and was met at the airport on Sunday by Swiss President Ignazio Cassis and regional leaders.
Five other government ministers were also among about 100 Ukrainians who made the long and perilous journey, although foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba reportedly had to cancel at the last moment due to illness.
In all, some 1,000 people were scheduled to participate in the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, several government chiefs and numerous ministers.
British foreign secretary Liz Truss is due to set out her country’s vision for the rebuilding, according to a statement.
In her comments to the conference on Monday, she is expected to highlight the importance of Ukraine’s full recovery from “Russia’s war of aggression”.
That, she will say, will be “a symbol of the power of democracy over autocracy”.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is expected to propose the creation of a new Ukraine trust fund, which with investments from EU and non-EU states could eventually swell to 100 billion euros, according to sources familiar with the draft plans, dpa news agency reported.
The proposal, due to be announced on Monday afternoon, aims to create a platform able to generate investment towards reconstruction, and also towards Ukraine’s EU accession goals, they said.
“Ukraine is a huge country, a lot has been destroyed … you cannot start planning and coordinating reconstruction soon enough,” Markus Berndt, head of the EIB’s department of external activity, told dpa.
Berndt stressed that Ukraine urgently needs help to secure basic services including as clean water supply, sewage, waste disposal, energy and internet access to ensure macroeconomic stability, Berndt said.
“We need investment, otherwise the economy will collapse completely and then we’d lose the most important pillar for reconstruction,” he added.